Overcoming Resistance to Change

If change is inevitable, and we're often able to see it coming, why are so many people resistant to it? There are some tried and true ways to help people deal with change, by listening to the reasons for their hesitation, and by making sure people know when they'll be benefitted by the transition.

Ah, change, the one consistent force in the Universe that you can always count on to sneak up and whack you on the head. Dealing with change is a major theme of configuration management, but getting others to go along with change is about as easy as shaving a gorilla's armpit. Why are people so resistant to change and how can you overcome it? It is possible, if you understand a few simple facts of human nature (or if you carry a loaded firearm - that works too). Read on, quickly now, before the layout of this web site changes and you can no longer find this article.

I believe human's resistance to change can be traced to two sources: supermarkets and Microsoft. Have you ever gone into your favorite grocery store to discover that your favorite item is no longer where it should be? One day the rutabagas are right there next to the potatoes, and on your next visit they are nowhere to be found. The store management does this on purpose in the hopes that during your aimless search for the rutabagas, you will stumble into the kitchenware aisle and purchase a gourmet coffee blender at a three hundred percent markup, wiping out your twenty cent coupon savings on the jumbo Charmin pack. At least the grocer has a method to his madness. Microsoft changes things for absolutely no good reason at all. Have you tried Office 2007? Whatever happened to the file menu? What was wrong with it? And don't even get me started on Vista. These kinds of changes drive us to insanity, so no wonder we are resistant to change.

Have you ever had the pleasure of changing a process in a development environment, or implementing a new software tool? This is especially fun if there are people on the team who have been working there longer than dirt. Your first efforts at change are met with rolling eyes and groans. You hear comments like "we've always done it this way" and "this is just another corporate initiative that will fail or change again in a month". There's always at least one guy on the team who still uses a home grown version control program he developed on his TRS-80 computer thirty years ago who will use a new tool only when the old one is pried from his cold, dead hands, thank you very much. As fun as these people are, they are usually not the biggest problem. At least you know where they stand. It is the ones who smile and nod and don't show any resistance at all. They follow Gandhi's example of passive resistance and simply don't follow the new process or use the new tool.

So how do you get people to accept change? The concept is quite simple, really, if you haven't already guessed. You have to prove to them how it will improve their lives by making tasks easier and shorter. You can't tell them this, for they won't believe you. You have to show them. Therefore, the changes you plan on making better really work, or you will ruin your credibility and they will dig their heels in even harder the next time you want to make a change.

Sure, it's a simple concept, but how do you pull it off? Most changes for the better do take some pain to adapt and there is usually a learning curve involved. I have a few suggestions below that should help grease the skids.

    • The first principle of change implementation is free food. Free beer works even better,

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